Best Writing Practice for Preschoolers
Q: What is the correct age for a preschooler to be introduced to practice writing using an 8-by-10-inch journal with wide lines? It's my understanding that 4 and 5 year olds need to, and enjoy, practicing writing. My 5 year old has a teacher who refuses to use these journals with the children, saying they are not age-appropriate. She made 4-by 6-inch journals. The children are cramming their letters in, but the teacher says they feel more comfortable with these smaller pages — that they write and express more. Which method do you feel is better?
A: In early writing experiences, bigger is always better. You are correct to suggest an 8" by 10" page. A larger space allows children to feel the freedom of making larger letters. Plus, children need the space to experiment with the feel of the letters before they worry about fitting them on a page.
Think of learning to write like learning to button. We all learned to button with large buttons and big holes. That is because the small muscles of the hand and the coordination of these muscles "grow up" along with the child. Very young children tend to have a difficult time manipulating small things. Often this type of small-muscle control does not fully manifest until first grade.
Children need to start writing with really big sheets of paper and even big crayons, pencils, and markers. Once they have developed a physical understanding of the formation of the letters they can move on to smaller pages and writing implements.
There are mixed feelings among educators about whether or not to use lined paper. Most agree that for preschoolers, writing paper should not have lines. This is so that children do not feel hampered and confined by the lines and can experiment with letter formation in their own way. Eventually, it is good to provide some wide-spaced lines so that children can learn to control their writing. Most kindergarten teachers use 8-by-10 journals that have wide-spaced lines at the bottom of the page and unlined space at the top for illustrations.
Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.